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Nestled to the east of Capitol Hill near the banks of the Anacostia River is the Congressional Cemetery.
Founded before the Civil War, the cemetery is the final burial place for a number of former members of Congress, Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices — even a Founding Father. Well-known people buried there include FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; military composer John Philip Sousa; military officer Joseph Gilbert Totten, for which Fort Totten is named; and Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and from whose name the term gerrymandering is derived.
A National Historic Landmark, Congressional Cemetery is also a staple for dog walkers in the neighborhood, whose generosity helps keep up the space, as many of those interred there no longer have family or trusts to fund operating costs.
But upkeep of a historic landmark is costly, and more money is needed for it.
Thus, Paul K. Williams, president of the cemetery, applied for a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which, along with American Express, is hosting its eighth annual Partners in Preservation challenge.
The challenge has identified 24 historic sites around the Washington metropolitan area and calls for people in the D.C. region and from across the country to vote for what they feel is the most deserving historic site to receive a portion of $1 million to go toward renovation projects.
“These are dollars that can be used for brick-and-mortar work,” said Rob Nieweg, D.C. field director for the NTHP, who added that the Partners in Preservation challenge has donated $15 million to historic sites across the country from past challenges, funded by American Express.
Other sites that are part of the challenge include Mount Vernon, the National Cathedral and Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, as well as some lesser-known historic sites around the region including the George Mason Memorial, the Kennel at Aspin Hill Memorial Park in Silver Spring, Md., and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
“When you think about places like Congressional Cemetery and Sixth & I and Meridian Hill Park and the Abner Cloud House, many of these places are part of the fabric of our community,” Nieweg said. “We may walk by them every day and not think that sustained public support is necessary” for their preservation.
For Williams, who helps run Congressional Cemetery, the money would mean that Mausoleum Row in the cemetery will get needed renovations, and he said that he’s thus far excited about the support for the cemetery.